OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- The cost of freedom cannot and should not be measured in mere dollars, or even in millions or billions of dollars. Today's large military budgets are spent on equipment, buildings, airframes, maintenance, personnel and training. These are the items that are most commonly thought of when people consider the cost of the freedoms we enjoy.
These costs are also paid by countries that have large military forces, but little or no freedom. The true costs of freedom are not found in a balance sheet or in the pages of a budget document.
The hidden costs of freedom include the birth of a child, missed by a deployed father. Also included are the birthdays and anniversaries missed by a parent or spouse on temporary duty, and even the simplest things we take for granted, such as missing a child's first steps, first words, first day of kindergarten or their last day of high school.
The costs can be high for many military families who support their active-duty spouses and parents. These professional warriors often struggle to maintain their ties with their families while working to ensure that everyone has the rights and freedoms we all expect.
Sadly, the cost of freedom is sometimes counted by the number of flag-draped caskets returning from overseas. These are the men and women for whom the ultimate cost of freedom was their lives, and the impact on the lives of their families.
This ultimate cost is one that is not fully measured by the cold, sterile numbers of casualty reports. It is measured in the amount of unheard advice, unshared joys, unshared sorrows and in the hearts of children who only know their parents through stories and photos.
These hidden costs of freedom began in the War of Independence. They continued through the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War.
The costs were very high during the Civil War when freedom was extended to some for the first time. The costs then included brother fighting against brother and friend against friend.
Still the costs rose, through the Spanish-American War, two world wars, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam and the long Cold War. The cost continues to build as we fight today's war, both at home and abroad.
However, with this cost, we have paid for freedom for ourselves and for others who may have never known freedom. Even though we have paid a high price for freedom, we are among the few who have given freedom to others regardless of the cost we bear.
(Editor's note: Cathy L. Francis, spouse of retired Master Sgt. Mitchell J. Francis, was recently awarded one of 25 $1,000 scholarships offered through the Air Force's Club Membership Scholarship Program for this winning essay. Francis is currently attending Metropolitan Community College where she hopes to earn an associate degree in medical billing and coding.)